San Clemente Island is located off the coast of southern California. It is owned by the U.S. government and used and managed by the U.S. Navy. Goats were first introduced to the island from a previously seeded population that was imported from Santa Catalina Island to San Clemente Island in 1875. When the U.S. Navy eventually became responsible for the island in 1934, hunting and trapping of the goats was allowed up until 1972. At this time a survey concluded that there were 15,000 goats on the island and that they represented a nuisance to native plants and wildlife. As a result, a systematic removal program was begun to reduce the goat population. By 1980 an estimated 4,000 goats still remained on the island.
To continue more effectively with the goat population removal, the Navy proposed a shooting program to be conducted from helicopters. This program was blocked in court by the animal welfare group Fund for Animals. Under the court decision, goat trappers were brought in to remove approximately 3,000 goats off the island to be returned to domestication. Most of the animals were adopted out by Fund for Animals with agreements that the goats would not be bred by the new owners. Other San Clemente Island goats went directly from the barges that brought them off the island to individuals and farms. The breed is still critically endangered, but has proven adaptable in a variety of climates.
San Clemente Island goats are relatively small, though slightly larger than dwarf breeds. They are uncommonly fine-boned and deer-like, and most have very gentle temperaments and excellent mothering abilities. San Clemente Island goats are typically red or tan with characteristic black markings. The island population once exhibited a wide range of colors and color markings and these can occasionally be seen today. Both sexes are horned and although their large horns resemble those of Spanish goats, San Clemente Island goats are not of Spanish origin. The Livestock Conservancy, in collaboration with the University of Cordoba in Spain, conducted a DNA study of the breed in 2007 and found that the San Clemente Island goat is a genetically distinct breed and unrelated to the numerous other breeds in the study. The findings raise many questions about the origin of the San Clemente Island goat and further study is needed to gain a better understanding of this unique breed.
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